The Physical Aspects of Anorexia Recovery

September 7, 2012 Angela E. Gambrel

The truth is, I often hate the physical aspects of recovery.

The night sweats.

The hunger pains.

The food cravings.

The breakouts of acne.

The edema.

The delayed gastric re-emptying.

The headaches.

The constipation and diarrhea.

And my ever-changing body, including, The "Buddha" Belly.

It has been enough to cause me to give up. Several times.I wake up, drenched in sweat. It's 3 a.m. I've had a restless night, and I can't go back to sleep on wet sheets. I feel gross...

This was the first time I attempted recovery.

And it got worse. Although I didn't restore any weight that time around — in fact, I lost a few pounds — I experienced several of the physical signs of recovery.

Besides the night sweats, my ankles swelled up with edema and my face broke out with acne. I was constipated, but there was no way my doctor was going to prescribe me a laxative because of my prior history of abusing them. My head hurt, and my concentration was shot.

I was hungry, and it scared me.

I stopped eating most foods after that one-week stay on a psychiatric unit. It would take several more years before I would truly commit to recovery, and the first step was eat and regaining weight.

The theory is that we all have a set point weight, the weight in which our bodies settle naturally and easily without restriction or binging. The weight that we are genetically programmed to be. The weight that we feel the most comfortable being, and the weight, for the majority of anorexics, that we no longer are tormented by eating disorder thoughts or urges.

It has taken me years to allow myself to eat to reach that weight. Each time, I would go so far, only to stop because I was both mentally and physically unready.

It probably sounds vain, but I most hated the "Buddha" belly and acne that came with eating healthy again. I mean, I am in my forties and I am still struggling with acne. Seriously??? Wasn't I suppose to be done with that already?

And my belly. I absolutely loved having a concave stomach. So when it grew exponentially in relation to my weight gain, I was horrified. I wanted my anorexic stomach back.

Sometimes I still want my anorexic stomach back.

I often wonder why many anorexics, including myself, relapse again and again. While anorexia is a complex illness with multiple causes, I am convinced that that often the physical aspects of recovery are often a trigger for relapse.

Who wants to have a huge belly and zits? Who wants to have swollen legs and constipation? Why would anyone embrace what amounts to puberty years after the fact?

I still miss the size zero jeans at times, the fact that I thought I looked like a waif when really I only looked hideous. I go shopping, only to look longingly at the cute little mini-skirts that wouldn't even fit over one of my thighs now.

Even the fact that I now have breasts still bothers me at times. I mean, buying sexy lingerie is great and all, but bras can be uncomfortable and I still miss the days where I could get away with wearing a camisole.

But it's no longer worth it. The price of anorexia is too high.

So I move forward, and for the most part, I am happy with my new figure. I look like a woman now. I am proud of my body, grateful for its beauty and strength.

APA Reference
Gambrel, A. (2012, September 7). The Physical Aspects of Anorexia Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Angela E. Gambrel

October, 28 2023 at 10:26 pm

To all of you struggling with anorexia or any form of eating restriction, and convinced it is worth continuing with, I have a word to share with you.
I am now 40 but have restricted my diet since I was 16. For years I convinced myself food restrictions were actually healthy. Certain religious groups even champion it, and the more I learnt about medicine and science, the more I fuelled the self delusion.
I had all I wanted. A stick figure after a childhood of being overweight. A flat abdomen, minor muscle tone and not a care in the world except for the fatigue.
Come this year I am now a father to a toddler and have had my first heart attack. My heart, liver and kidney’s are all partially destroyed from years of food restrictions, even though I fell within the “healthy” weight to height range.
I am now facing the reality of possibly having to say good bye to my beautiful child forever due to combined organ damage.
All so I could I feel okay about my slim physique each time I passed by a mirror, or bought a piece of clothing.
Life is so short and precious.
Trust me. Do not mess it up because you want to look skinny.
Wishing you all the very best.

March, 3 2021 at 5:11 pm

i don't know how many people read this site anymore since all the comments are from years and years ago, but I just want to say if you're reading this in 2021, considering recovery and weighing your options, i just wanna say you're not alone. i'm right there with you. i know it's hard I'm going through the same exact thing . you're not alone . i know everyone struggles differently with eating disorders, but approaching and even considering recovery is the bravest thing we can do. especially if it's on our own, like me. this is one of the hardest things i've ever done, and i just wanna say i'm so proud of you for all it took to get to this point of the beginning of recovery. i believe in you!!!!! we can do it

March, 4 2021 at 11:03 am

Thank you so much for these thoughtful, intentional words of encouragement! You are so right—recovery is brave, difficult, and worthwhile. I appreciate you sharing these insights from your own eating disorder recovery process!
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
"Surviving ED" Blogger

February, 24 2016 at 11:38 am

This was an inspiring post. Really, thanks for writting it. Right now I'm goinc through anorexia recovery and its been like this for around six months. I defenitively agree that the worst part about recovery are the physical aspect, specially the tummy, it is something that I have always given a lot of inportance and seeing it so bloated is really being hard for me. I do try to keep on going and fight through this, but it is such a slow process it's being really hard. Do you have any advice to help me go through this?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Z Zoccolante
February, 25 2016 at 10:30 am

HI Aria. I liked this post too because Angela describes the work it takes to recover. We do become attached to the way that certain body parts have looked or felt, and it can be hard to let go of that. I'm so proud of you for the work you've done to get to the place you're at not in your recovery. It's important to acknowledge how far you've already come and that you are still moving forward. Remember to be kind to yourself and to celebrate little things. I remember there was one point in my recovery, I was so happy when I could use the bathroom, because I also had problems with constipation. What I have learned through my recovery is that body image is the first to come and the last to leave. The body will regulate. It takes time, but it will. What worked best for me was to stay connected to why I was doing this. I wanted to be happy and free and had a specific future memory I looked towards. When I was struggling, or not liking my thighs, I'd tell myself that what I did before didn't work and didn't bring me happiness, and that going through this was the only way to get to the other side, to the vision I held for my life. What's your vision?

January, 23 2016 at 3:16 pm

I'm a mother of a 33 year old anorexic who lives at home. I just sewed darts in size 4 jeans to fit her tiny hips. She has no breasts as Angela mentions above. She used to be a beautiful, athletic woman. She has never been heavy. It is killing me to see her so tiny. I live in fear of her disappearing and leaving this earth way before her time. I cannot bear the tiny pieces of food she eats by taking a tiny piece of bread to eat. She just now got a fulltime job and I pray that she doesn't get smaller from not eating due to working. What triggers an anorexia to get help? She had help once and did better but she refuses to get back into counseling. Does anyone have any suggestions for me as a mother who is also dying inside over this disease?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Z Zoccolante
January, 25 2016 at 6:03 pm

HI Heather. My heart feels the pain in your message both for your daughter and for your sadness in seeing someone you love go through this. You asked what triggers a person with anorexia to get help. The answer is different for everyone. I've found anorexia (and all food disorders) to be a coping mechanism for underlying emotions. For someone with anorexia, the fear/terror of gaining weight or getting fat, is a band-aid for wounds underneath. A lot of times people are not entirely conscious of the underlying stuff and so it's easier to focus on not eating, restricting, or the size of the body. As someone who was once anorexic I can offer two suggestions (keep in mind I know nothing about you or your daughter's personal situations). First, tell your daughter that you love her, you're scared (be vulnerable and tell her how helpless, etc. it makes you feel, and ask her if she would please consider seeing a therapist again. She may insist that she's fine or maybe she'll consider it to appease you because she can see that you're suffering too, with her. If she reacts poorly, which is also possible, then I'd encourage you to seek a therapist or counselor for you to see. The purpose of this is to assist you in processing the sadness and helplessness that parents feel when they're watching their adult child go through this. Eating disorders are selfish things because even though we think we're only hurting ourselves, they have their tendrils in our family members and relationships. We don't mean to do this and we feel bad for it, but we are not able to do any differently because we are in our eating disorder. I'm sorry that you're struggling along with your daughter. Please know that you are not alone in this. I hope this helps.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

avril keanan
April, 11 2017 at 7:13 am

I hope she has help by now. Talk to her. Please. My parents didn't and I'm still struggling. Get information. Try to allow her to stay in control somehow. Get counselling for both of you.

December, 16 2015 at 10:02 am

It's defiantly the physical aspects making me want to quit Dx
September, 14 2012 at 7:26 pm

Your writing resonates for many in AN recovery... it would be helpful however if no numbers were mentioned

September, 11 2012 at 5:35 pm

The worst part about recovery for me is that I gained the weight back so fast that I it stretch marks. It is so dreadful and embarrassing because I am only 5'6 and 110 pounds!!!! I am not fat and I have stretch marks. However, from being 83 pounds to 110 in 3 weeks definitely caused the marks. I hate them.

September, 7 2012 at 4:03 pm

This is probably the hardest part of recovery for me. I'd be so happy to give up the "control" I feel when I restrict what I eat, or puke or exercise. But I refuse to give it up for the bizarre things that happen to my body when I begin to properly nourish it. I'm not (and probably never will be) a size 0, and the fact that I am right in the middle of the "healthy weight range" for my height, terrifies me. What if my set-point weight is overweight. What if I'm destined to weight 180lbs like I did before I began restricting? What if people make fun of me again, or see me differently? I just don't feel prepared to handle that, and its sad.

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